The former Donna Miller never doubted that there is a need for blood donors but she never realized just how important that need is until she married Gary Brittain five years ago. Recently hired as donor recruitment representative with The American Red Cross replacing Crissy Werner, she’s on a crusade to get the message out that the need is critical.

Gary lost his daughter Megan to cancer on June 2, 2009, shortly after Donna moved to Jacksonville from Texas. She and Gary didn’t know each other at the time, but after they became acquainted Gary explained the need for blood during chemotherapy. 

“Megan received 66 units of blood products,” said Donna. “The need is constant for blood and the gratification is instant in knowing that you are helping to save and extend a life.”

Summer months, said Donna, are probably when people are less likely to give. School is out, and everyone goes on vacation. The need for blood is especially critical during the summer months and holidays. Donna suggests that people encourage their employers or churches to sponsor a blood drive.

She has scheduled blood drives this summer. The first is a compassion drive for Abby Usher of Wellborn. a 7 year old, who has been diagnosed with leukemia. It will be July 3 at Anytime Fireworks in Ohatchee. The second is the Summer Reunion blood drive on July 11-12 at Quintard Mall in Oxford.

“Come out and give blood and if you can’t give blood, sponsor a drive or help recruit donors,“ said Donna. “I’m so blessed to be a member of an organization like the Red Cross that does so much good. They do a tremendous job reaching out to communities and being there in times of need. Don’t let the fear of giving blood stop you. There are so many people out there who need blood. Knowing that you’re helping to save lives is awesome.”

Donna’s job at The American Red Cross will be to recruit and maintain blood drive sponsorships for community groups, churches, schools and businesses. She will be promoting current programs to sponsors such as The Live Give Life program for 16-24 year old student sponsors, Pint Size Heroes campaign and the PHSD program that gives sponsors a discount on exclusive American Red Cross preparedness, health and safety services.

Donna’s plans didn’t include living in Alabama nor did they include being married to a red-haired Baptist preacher. Born and reared in Falls Church, Va., she moved to Texas, where she worked in territory management for over 20 years. Shortly after the downturn of the economy, she found herself laid off after a recent move to Austin, Texas. She thought about going back to Houston, but her sister, Becky Simmons, asked her to come to Alabama and spend time with family while she looked for another job.

Donna was interviewing with companies in Ohio and thought she’d be in Jacksonville only a short time. Her plans were to move to Ohio, where her son, J. B. Shugarts Jr., had gone to play football for the Ohio State University.

“I came to Jacksonville thinking I’d be here for only six months at the most,” said Donna. “I was raised a Catholic but while in Jacksonville, I felt drawn to the First Baptist Church which always appeared to be full of people and energy. I decided one day I’d go there. I met wonderful friends at First Baptist Jacksonville and started attending church and Sunday school there.”

One Sunday, Aug. 9, 2009, at First Baptist, the pastor, Derek Staples, invited the congregation to go home, change clothes, eat lunch and come back to give blood at a drive in Megan’s memory at the church. Donna decided to face her fear of needles and give blood in honor of “that brave little girl.”

Donna did exactly what Dr. Staples suggested at the service and changed her clothes. She put on her Buckeye Mom shirt and shorts, ate lunch and went back to the church to donate blood for the first time. At the blood drive she captured Gary’s attention. Gary lost his first wife, Sharon, to cancer in 2007 after a seven year battle with the disease. Megan was diagnosed with a different form of cancer than Sharon just five months after the death of her mother in 2007.

Crissy, who was working at the American Red Cross at that time, went home from the blood drive that day and told her husband, John-Paul, that she saw sparks between Donna and Gary.

On the weekends, Donna drove to Columbus, Ohio, to watch her son, J. B. Shugarts, play football for the Ohio State University. Because she was in Ohio on Sundays, she missed church and Sunday school, so Gary thought she was no longer in Jacksonville.

One weekend, he called to tell her he’d seen J. B. on television when Ohio State played the University of Southern California. Donna and her father were driving back to Alabama after attending the game. They continued to talk a lot.

Their first date was lunch at Roma’s on her birthday, Sept. 17, and Gary showed up with flowers and a card.

“I’ve never done anything that fast,” said Donna. “I’m a planner and a thinker, but the Holy Spirit convinced me to become Gary’s wife and stay in Alabama.”

They became engaged in November and married at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville with family and friends present on Dec. 22, 2009. They included J. B. of Columbus, as well as Gary’s sons, Ian of Tuscaloosa and Bradley of Jacksonville in the ceremony.

Ian is an Alabama graduate who played in the Million Dollar Band. He is now general manager of a Fastenal store in Sylacauga. J. B. is a professional athlete and plays for the National Football League. He’s currently with the Detroit Lions and will be graduating from the Ohio State University with a degree in consumer science. Bradley is considering a career in the Air Force.

The Brittains moved to Golden Springs in 2011. They are members of Golden Springs Baptist Church, where they participate in Bible studies and are members of a grief support group. 

Gary is a state missionary for Alabama Baptists serving as campus minister at Jacksonville State University. 

Donna’s father and step-mother are James and Janet Miller of Anniston. She has three sisters, Becky Simmons of Jacksonville, Allison York of Birmingham and Jaime Miller of New Jersey, and a brother, Shane MacDonald of Woodbridge, Va. Donna’s mother, Sandra MacDonald lives in Houston.

Donna has a political science degree with a concentration in social studies from Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. She started her career in advertising with Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages in the Washington, D. C. Metropolitan area and then moved to Texas where she worked for Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages until 1997. Until 2008, Donna managed various accounts in the Houston metro area for Fortune 100 companies such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Microsoft and Lexis Nexis until she moved to Austin for business in 2008.

Donna enjoys reading, homemaking and spending time with Gary. Donna and Gary have a cat and a dog, and they call the cat Momma Cat. She was a stray that had kittens under their porch and became their family cat. Mr. Fox, a cat that Donna adopted from a shelter when she lived in Houston lived to be 20 years old and recently passed away. The family dog is Oreo, who was given to Megan while she was going through cancer treatment. Oreo is a shitzu. “He’s the best little dog,” said Donna. “He has the most wonderful personality.”

As a member of the Christian Women’s Job Corp, she teaches dressing for achievement classes and, as a board member of Pearl Williams’s House of Refuse, she speaks to youth on interviewing and job hunting skills.

Although Donna’s plans didn’t include living in Alabama, she’s happy that’s how it turned out.

“I’ve learned that with Christ all things are possible,” she said. “Jesus is my strength and my rock, and I lean on Him every day. Without Him I wouldn’t be able to do anything. I relied on Him for leading me to the American Red Cross. It’s amazing how it came to me. I was in the process of taking another job when this one at Red Cross became available for me.”

Donna said what she thought was the worst thing in the world -- losing her job and being alone in a new city, Austin, Texas, while her son was at school in Ohio -- was the best thing that could have ever happened.

“God used it for good when He motivated me to come to Alabama,” she said. “One of my favorite Bible verses is Romans 8:28, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ ”

Donna said she and Gary like fresh food.

“We eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole foods,” she said. “Gary had a heart attack during Megan’s battle with cancer, and he had to adjust his eating, so we try to eat a lot of salads and stay away from processed food.”

They enjoy Portuguese Fish, Roast Asparagus, Sugar and Flour Free Raisin Cookie Bars, Spicy Ground Beef Over Rice and Colorful Healthy Salad.


Portuguese Fish

  • White fish
  • 6-8 small red potatoes
  • 1 small onion, red pepper
  • Tarragon
  • Vinegar
  • White grape juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley

Layer ingredients in a glass baking dish and cover with white grape juice. Bake at 375 until most of the liquid is absorbed. about 1 and ½ hours.

Roast Asparagus

  • 12-14 medium thick spears of fresh green asparagus
  • 2 t. olive oil
  • Sprinkle of salt and pepper or Mrs. Dash

Preheat oven at 425 degrees. Line a rimmed metal baking sheet with foil, rinse the asparagus and snap off the root ends, place on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for about 5 minutes depending on how crisp you want your asparagus.

Sugar and Flour Free Raisin Cookie Bars

  • 3 very ripe bananas
  • 1/3 cup of apple sauce
  • ¼ cup of unsweetened almond milk
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 t. cinnamon

Mash bananas and add ingredients to the banana. Drop on cookie sheet or spread in a pan for bars. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

Spicy Ground Beef Over Rice

  • Ground round or ground sirloin
  • Red onion
  • Fresh garlic
  • Green pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can Rotel

Brown rice, olive oil. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and add chopped red onion, crushed fresh garlic, chopped green pepper and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add ground beef and cook until browned. Drain excess fat then add 1 can of Rotel and heat until ready. Serve over brown rice.

Colorful, Healthy Salad

  • 1 bag of shredded broccoli
  • shredded red cabbage
  • chopped red, yellow and green peppers
  • Radishes
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Shredded almonds
  • ¼ cup of raisins
  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • Chopped celery
  • 1 red onion
  • Mung bean sprouts
  • Butternut squash
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Louisiana hot sauce
  • Salt and pepper

Chop and/or cube all ingredients and mix. Top with Louisiana hot sauce and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and toss. Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

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